Writing is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public.

— Winston Churchill

What Are Your Sanity Saving Tips?

While perusing the news yesterday morning, I read about a woman who had set her 6-year-old on fire. I read about a mother who delivered a fatal punch to the head of her 7-month-old baby. I read about a mother who suffocated her newborn because he wouldn’t stop crying and I read about a mother who sexually abused her toddler and shared the acts with other like-minded horror mongers on the Internet. There was the boyfriend who tortured a toddler until his little body gave up and then there was the story of a little boy who died a brutal death at the hands of his caregivers only six days after the LA County’s Department of Children and Family Services dismissed allegations of abuse.

The media does a wonderful job of shocking us, repulsing us, and when we read about these types of atrocities, we ache. We also turn our heads in a different direction because the gut-level insanity is too much to wallow in for long; it affects our psyche and leaves us feeling helpless. The inundation of abuse stories in every publication and broadcast easily creates a sense of hopelessness where we don’t know where to turn, or how to help.

Reporting the stories, feeling the shock and horror is important, but so is our ability to collectively move toward helping create families free from abuse, and the media is not doing a good job in that regard. Simply gorging on the atrocities doesn’t provide any type of real-life solutions or empower us as a society of people who really do care.

It only takes a second, a tiny click inside the exhausted and frustrated mind of a parent to make the leap into child abuse. It may start with a parent yelling, trying desperately to demand compliance from a child who is simply hell bent on screaming, or throwing his food, or stomping her feet. As the frustration mounts and the struggle for control escalates, a parent without coping skills could all too easily lay violent hands and voice on the one person they’re duty-bound to protect and nurture.

If you’re a parent or caregiver, I feel pretty confident to assume you’ve been in these situations. You’re tired. You’re trying to keep it together. You’re stressed and anxious for a variety of reasons and your child has decided he or she is going to take your last ounce of sanity and throw it in your face. In that instant when you feel the rage and helplessness begin to grow, you make a choice. You choose to yell and scream. You choose to spank or slap or kick, or you choose something else, some way to cope that doesn’t include verbal or physical retribution toward a child so much smaller and weaker than you. It’s always a choice.

The stories of child abuse reported in our media are justifiably shocking and I understand all too well how much more comforting it is to turn the page or the channel and to think the statistics so overwhelming that there’s nothing I can do. It’s not true though. There is a lot I can do, and that you can do. We don’t have to imagine ourselves riding white horses into rings of fire. We can start simply, where roots begin to grow. Rather than feeling shocked and overwhelmed, we can reach out into our daily interactions and share a nugget of wisdom, a lesson learned hard.

What coping mechanisms do you use? When you feel like you’re about to slip over the edge, when you’re in that instant where you have to make a choice, what do you do? What tips can you share with other parents?

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39 comments to What Are Your Sanity Saving Tips?

  • I call you and commiserate!

    Seriously though, finding a friend who gets it, who can relate to the daily struggles of trying to be a mindful parent is the most helpful thing for me. Parenting – especially when a challenge – can feel so isolating and “negotiations” with people barely 3 feet tall can take a toll on the psyche in a way that no other interaction can. Knowing I am not alone in this, having a friend who reinforces my beliefs that despite exhaustion, frustration, stress, etc it is my highest calling and greatest responsibility to model behavior that lets my children know they are loved, they are safe and that empathy and kindness are always the better choice is a gift for which I am eternally grateful.

    And a glass (or bottle) of wine with said friend is very helpful too!
    Danielle´s last blog ..Our Local Harvest My ComLuv Profile

    • Tricia

      For the longest time after Aaron was born, I didn’t dare complain AT ALL. I was so afraid people would think I was ungrateful that I was finally a mother and I went through a period of time when I also couldn’t understand how other people could complain about their kids. I thought…shouldn’t we all just be thankful. I’ve come to realize that there’s nothing quite as refreshing and helpful as sharing the insights and frustrations with a friend…like you said…finding a friend who gets it and to whom I can safely share my frustrations and feelings. It’s invaluable on so many levels…as is that glass (or bottle) of wine.

  • It’s been a long time since I was in that place of raising young ones but I remember well the frustration and the realization that I’m really not that different from a child abuser. There is such a fine line between being pushed to the edge and holding yourself back and going on over and plunging to the unthinkable. I can’t really say just what it was that held me back. God? My faith tells me that God was there. A strong sense of right and wrong? I wish I had the answer for you but I can’t really say. I just remember thinking during those moments that it would be so easy to snap. Thankfully I didn’t. Well that’s not exactly true either. I’m I said things that I would take back now. This parenting stuff, it’s not for the faint of heart, huh?
    Smart Mouth Broad´s last blog ..ALL THINGS BLOG My ComLuv Profile

    • Tricia

      Not for the faint of heart is right, SMB. The line is fine, but you’re much, much different than an abuser. You didn’t choose to step over to the other side.

  • It’s been almost a couple of decades now, but my own impulsive reflex was what taught me to relax and just not let my kidlets’ behavior get to me.

    My older son at about aged 2 or 3 had an annoying and painful habit of pulling my hair. .hard. Out of frustration, I took quite a few strands of his hair into between my finger and thumb and tugged “to show him how it felt.” To my shock and horror, the hair stayed between my fingers, as it seemed to so easily release from his scalp. I just stared at it, realizing how easily i could do damage to my own child. It scared me into learning how to just accept my kids’ outbursts much more calmly.

    Strangely, and thankfully, it never even hurt his head. But equally thankfully, it sure messed with mine.
    Hilary´s last blog ..Cottage Days & Nights My ComLuv Profile

    • Tricia

      Hilary, that is an incredibly compelling story and powerful moment. Thank you for sharing that. When Aaron was younger and he went through a short biting phase and then a pulling hair phase, people kept telling me to do those things back to him. One day I pulled his hair…like you, I’ll never forget the look on his face. It was pure horror and I was incredibly ashamed to have taken that advice. His hair was fine, but I broke his heart for a moment, and mine too.

  • When my kids were young I’d sometimes just give myself a few minutes extra in the shower if I needed a break. My husband has always traveled extensively for business meaning I had full time duty of 3 kids. I learned to breathe deep when frustration built. I also learned early on, it usually meant either the kids, or I, were simply in need of some sleep. There were days when I suggested a group nap and that always seemed to help all of us get thru the day much easier.
    Twenty Four At Heart´s last blog ..Men Vs. Women – Again My ComLuv Profile

  • What an important post! THANKS!

    For me, I have to talk it out with my husband. When I’m having a rough day, I first notice it in my tone of voice with my children. I turn into this controlling do-it-my-way-or-I’ll-do-it-for-you mom. I don’t like her a bit. And I’ve, admittedly, also had those days where I grabbed my child’s arm harshly or slammed a door in anger or…you know, all those thing we do where we *should* immediately realize we’re going from vocal manipulation to physical manipulation. And those experiences terrify me. I know we all have those days, but it doesn’t make me feel any better about them.

    If my husband can’t talk on the phone, we email and I get it all out in an email. He can say the simplest thing to me and I’m all better. He’ll remind me that they’re so little and that they won’t always be this way (and that I’ll miss these days when they’re gone which is SOOO true!). Or he’ll remind me that they had a bad night of sleep due to a thunderstorm. Or sometimes he has some other eye-opening thing that he forgot to mention like the fact that one child said they weren’t hungry for breakfast or another one seemed kind of warm and maybe I should take his temperature. He always knows what to say to ignite the compassion and empathy that young children so desperately need. After all, they’re his children, too, and he can often see the things I sometimes miss.

    I’ve also found great support on the Gentle Christian Mothers board. There are so many sympathetic and strong mothers there with valuable years of experience.

    And embarrassing as it is to admit this, I’ve noticed that most of the time when I’m hitting the edge of my sanity–I’ve done it to myself. I see the point where I forgot that my role of mother was supposed to come before my role of blogger, or book reviewer, or student, or whatever else I intended to get done that day. I have to prioritize or else I lose it.


    • Tricia

      Shaye, I love how you can take a step back and allow your perspective to alter through the voice (or email)of someone else. I think it takes a lot of mindfulness to be able to do that…to remove yourself enough from the moment to seek comfort, or guidance and that you can do that with your husband is a wonderful tribute to marriage and healthy family.

  • Once again Tricia, a very powerful, thought provoking post — in additional what wonderful comments you have received. I agree, I agree, I agree and ditto to you all!

    I’ve been there, done that … with six children there are times when I just might be loosing it! As Shaye referred to, I think often it is times when I have too many other things to do that things get out of control. Sometimes I have to stop and see what I can let go of and what ‘needs’ to be done and what my children need to me.

    Deep breathes, loving husband, good friends (Tricia are you going to start charging us if too many people call you) and lots of honesty … with me and now that my children are getting older … with them … FAMILY MEETING to regroup!

    But most of the time I hang it all up and sit down on the floor to play with my children and HONESTLY let go of everything else, even for a moment or two it makes a big difference.
    Amy @ Six Flower Mom´s last blog ..Wordful/Wordless Wednesday – A Kitten Story My ComLuv Profile

    • Tricia

      I love family meetings too, although with just the three of us at home, we tend to have time to do this in an informal way every night at the dinner table.

      It’s amazing how just deep breathing and taking time to be in the moment can make a huge difference. When I’m feeling crazy and stressed, It’s when my little guy feels the anxiety as well and he gets stressed. I so get what you mean about just taking the time, even if it’s a few minutes to simply focus on what a child needs…that can be time well spent that will make the rest of the day much smoother and easier for everyone. Thanks.

      I’m not charging, I’m just taking it all out in trade for my own psychotic moments.

  • Tricia

    Here are some great tips from Prevent Child Abuse America. Some of these I’ve used myself, and these are great for when you need something right now, in the moment, before you make the choice to yell or hit…

    Twelve Alternatives to Lashing Out at Your Child
    The next time everyday pressures build up to the point where you feel like lashing out — STOP!
    Try any of these simple alternatives. You’ll feel better… and so will your child.
    •Take a deep breath… and another. Then remember you are the adult.
    •Close your eyes and imagine you’re hearing what your child is about to hear.
    •Press your lips together and count to 10… or better yet, to 20.
    •Put your child in a time-out chair (remember this rule: one time-out minute for each year
    of age.)
    •Put yourself in a time-out chair. Think about why you are angry: is it your child, or is
    your child simply a convenient target for your anger?
    •Phone a friend.
    •If someone can watch the children, go outside and take a walk.
    •Take a hot bath or splash cold water on your face.
    •Hug a pillow.
    •Turn on some music. Maybe even sing along.
    •Pick up a pencil and write down as many helpful words as you can think of. Save the list.
    •Call for prevention information: 1-800-CHILDREN

  • I had some moments where I screamed or yelled and I wish I could take it back now. I learned to walk away, even if it was just to another room. My husband worked nights so most of the time I felt like a single mom. SMB is rright. It is not for the feight of heart.
    Pseudo´s last blog ..Wordless Wednesday #17 My ComLuv Profile

    • Tricia

      Not having someone to hand off to can be incredibly stressful for so many people parenting alone. Walking away is a wonderful tip, thanks Pseudo.

  • Take a deep breath.
    Find the humor in the situation.
    Take another deep breath.
    Cheri @ Blog This Mom!´s last blog ..The Little Blond Buddha Who Lives Next Door My ComLuv Profile

  • Ugh sometimes it’s so hard to stop yourself. And there have been plenty of times that I yelled, but I try to remind myself that there have also been more times that I didn’t.

    The important thing is realizing your frustration before it gets to the point of yelling. I try to close my eyes and just be blank for a moment. I’ve also called my mom (although she just likes to tell me everything I did wrong instead of just listening), but one of my best resources is Twitter.

    • Tricia

      I hadn’t thought about the immediacy of support that can be provided by an online community like Twitter. I think it’s wonderful to reach out in any way that can help us stop like you said and take a moment to regroup.

  • I have 3 home all day now with the summer and YES they are driving me crazy. separation!! I separate them til they calm down. Baby still takes a nap so that allows me to occupy the older two with and activity. and thats when I get my recharge. Sending them to play in the yard or sprinkler is good too when the baby is sleeping keeps the house quiet

    • Tricia

      The sprinkler sounds divine, for your time out and for their entertainment. We’re still under water restrictions where I live, unfortunately.

  • I really admire you for taking a stand on this and getting the word out. Child abuse is terrible and a lot of people don’t realize how common it is.

    When I lose my cool and my kids start to drive me nuts I just send them to their rooms, let them scream all they want and I go outside to cool off. You need to take control of the situation before it ends up worse.

    Thank you for sharing your tips and these horrific stories. You have a wonderful blog here!
    Cascia @ Healthy Moms´s last blog ..Weekend Reflection #60 | Pregnancy, Blogging and My Alright Life My ComLuv Profile

    • Tricia

      Thanks so much for participating in the conversation. It takes everyone’s voices and dialogue to make a difference. It’s so great that you can recognize when things may begin to escalate and then take the time you need to cool off or remove yourself from the situation. I think this is one of the most important coping strategies we can learn.

  • Those stories are horrific. Just hard to imagine. Yet, I know you are correct. It would only take a minute.
    debbie´s last blog ..I’m really not planning to need my organs after I die My ComLuv Profile

    • Tricia

      Every day the news is full of new stories just like this. It is heart wrenching, but there is good news in the fact that we really can make a difference and raise awareness and help with prevention strategies.

  • thank you for this topic; we hear the real horrors but i think it’s important to share how we cope too!

    i try and step back from the confrontation of control for one second. my absolute number 1 rule is ‘go with the flow’. if child1 will not do as told, then i say ok, and repeat what she is telling me so i can hear myself say it from her point of view.

    once i’ve articulated what she’s telling me (or screaming!), like ‘you’re telling me you won’t strap your seat belt on in the car’ then i take a second to breathe and start to explore what her feelings might be. i strongly believe that children will express themselves in one direction but the actual problem may be in another. so she won’t strap herself in, because she doesn’t have her favourite toy. if we are late to get to our destination, or i need two large glasses of wine that night, these are still better scenarios than child1 receiving a smack and the example of a screaming parent, both of which i am ashamed to admit i have done, and why i worked hard to find alternatives!
    grit´s last blog ..Warning: unplanned life ahead My ComLuv Profile

    • Tricia

      Grit, I love this idea of repeating what the child says so we can hear it from their point of view. Sometimes re framing a situation can make all the difference. Thanks so much for sharing your tips.

  • Having a husband who would step in when I couldn’t was a lifesaver. With my second child, I could not get him to go to sleep. He would talk and talk and I loved it but the bedtime would never end. My husband took over…they had some nice man time and we were all able to go to bed at a reasonable hour.

    The grandmothers were also willing to babysit any evening, to give us a break.

    And my niece? She came to be our nanny and saved my sanity.
    Smalltown Mom´s last blog ..Signs of Summer My ComLuv Profile

  • I just wanted to add to my comment…I’ve been very lucky to have a husband and family to reach out to. So many mothers are alone with no ear to listen or shoulder to lean on.

    • Tricia

      Me too!! I know we all do what we have to do and put one foot in front of the other, but like you, I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have a support system and a very involved husband. Thaks for pointing out the importance of having people in our lives who can help. When parents have to go it alone, the stress must be overwhelming at times, and there’s a real need throughout our country (the world, really) to provide education and resources to help parents develop effective coping strategies, whether alone or co-parenting. Since abuse cases are actually on the rise, and many researchers are attributing it to the stress families are feeling because of the current economy, we really need to continue the dialogue and reach out wherever we can. I want to be hopeful.

  • I have two different situations that I want to talk about. The first is the one that you mentioned above. When I am push to my limits, I walk away. My girls are old enough that I can leave the room and know that they will be safe from harm. I walk away and then vent to another parent. It always helps because they had something like it happen to them a few days ago.

    The second is particular to being a step-mom. Sometimes, I hear things like “Well, my mommy said…” A little too often in one day. I am sure that there are plenty of sane rational bio-moms out there but my girls’ mom is not one of them. It takes a lot of willpower sometimes not to scream, “You’re mommy is wrong and doesn’t really care about you.” But I don’t. I grab a laptop and we do some web searches to show what is really the case.
    WickedStepMom´s last blog ..OMG! My ComLuv Profile

    • Tricia

      Walking away and seeking a safe place to vent are wonderful tips to help parents disengage before allowing a situation to escalate.

      I know from my own experiences that step parenting brings it’s own unique set of circumstances and challenges. Good for you for rising above and not engaging in the tit for tat or putting down of the other parent, even when it’s obvious or difficult.

  • I seriously believed in TIME-OUT!! It was rarely about Tyler needing a time-out…but rather ME. It wasn’t his fault I was trying to cope with things…his teeth hurt, or he needed changing, or whatever his issue was. UGH it breaks my heart to read these things and so…I stop reading.
    Grandy´s last blog ..A letter to Grandy’s Bank My ComLuv Profile

    • Tricia

      Maybe hospitals should provide time out chairs for parents as part of those new baby packages they send home. I do wish more “professionals” would give coping strategies right along with lessons on breastfeeding and diaper changing.

      I know it’s hard to read when our hearts feel hurt with the enormity and severity, but it’s so important we all continue to engage and thanks so much for doing just that :o )

  • What a great post and what great comments too. Tricia you have such a beautiful heart and soul that truly cares about people. I so enjoy reading your posts and have missed visiting you as of late. Hopefully it won’t be so long before I can stop by again! Hugs, Lori

    PS Thank you for speaking out and using your voice to help those who don’t have a voice or haven’t found theirs yet. One by one, people will get the message and lives will be changed…all because you had the courage to speak from your heart.

    • Tricia

      Lori, thank you so much for such kind words!!! Wishing you a little R&R and take all the time you need to focus on your family and yourself, we’ll all still be here.

  • Gosh, it’s so true about the fine line we all walk between that of frustrated parent and child abuser.

    I’ve been there. For sure. For me, I found I am better able to change the tone of the moment if I get down on my kids’ level. If I’m towering over them, I think it is easier to think in terms of domination and control. I feel more at risk of turning into a bully when I’m the biggest kid in the play yard.

    When my kids are out of control, I also find it helps to seek out the things I can control. For example, if I’ve lost control of my daughter’s tantrum, I take a break from her and turn of anything that’s making noise, close a door to contain her, dim the lights, etc. I control everything else in the environment so I have a better chance of eventually regaining control of her. If my kids are losing it and I’m surrounded by other things that are stressful, it’s even harder to find a positive resolution.
    Lisa P´s last blog ..Why Lisa, Where Have You Been? My ComLuv Profile

  • i just walk out of the room. or sometimes just start tickling them like crazy and it changes us all. what you are talking about comes generally from a place of stress and helplessness. Sometimes it is just plain insanity too, but regardless, bah.

  • Great topic and as always you’re post is thought provoking and insightful, as well as the comments! With this pregnancy wearing me out I’ve felt the need to take a lot of deep breaths lately, but it really helps when I start to feel worn out and overwhelmed.

    Depending on the situation, I’ve also used “this new place”’s technique of tickling or being silly – that works well with my 2 year old still – and gives both of us a break and chance to reset.
    Steph´s last blog ..Summer Fun List – progress report My ComLuv Profile

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